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Archive for June, 2011

To me, the answer is quite clearly “Yes!” However, since some people apparently disagree, I’ll go ahead and explain how I reach that conclusion.

In thinking about laws legalizing same-sex marriage, it’s always been my understanding that the goal is to make the sex or gender of the partners irrelevant, in other words, to allow anyone to marry anyone else without regard to what sex or gender they are. The text of the New York Marriage Equality Act passed and signed into law yesterday reflects this principle.

The Act states that its purpose is to “formally recognize[] otherwise-valid marriages without regard to whether the parties are of the same or different sex.” In addition, the legislature’s intent in passing the act is to ensure “that all provisions of law which utilize gender-specific terms in reference to the parties to a marriage … be construed in a gender-neutral manner….” (Sec. 2.)  To carry out these purposes, the operative provisions of the Act (Sec. 3) state:

A marriage that is otherwise valid shall be valid regardless of whether the parties to the marriage are of the same or different sex.

No government treatment or legal status, effect, right, benefit, privilege, protection or responsibility relating to marriage … shall differ based on the parties to the marriage being or having been of the same sex[,] rather than a different sex. When necessary to implement the rights and responsibilities of spouses under the law, all gender-specific language or terms shall be construed in a gender-neutral manner in all sources of law.

It’s true that the phrase “the same or different sex” could be interpreted as referring only to the two binary sexes, i.e., only to male and female. Any such interpretation, however, is contradicted by the statement that “all gender-specific language or terms shall be construed in a gender-neutral manner.” “Gender-neutral” means “without gender,” not just male or female, or masculine or feminine.  The reference to parties who are “of the same sex[,] rather than a different sex,” rather than the different, or opposite, sex, also contradicts any claim that the Act was only intended to allow people who are either male or female to marry and deny that right to intersex people who may be neither or both sexes.

Finally, as the Supreme Court declared in Loving v. Virginia, the right to marry is a fundamental right. Therefore, any statute barring intersex people from marrying would likely be unconstitutional. In keeping with the separation of powers between the three branches of government, courts always attempt to carry out the legislature’s will by avoiding any interpretation of a statute that would render it unconstitutional. Under this principle, even if the language of the New York Marriage Equality Act could be interpreted as excluding intersex people, any court addressing that issue will strive to avoid finding the Act to be unconstitutional by adopting the equally reasonable interpretation that the legislature intended that everyone should have the right to marry anyone, regardless of their sex or gender (or any combination or lack thereof).

Thus, given both the language of the Act, and the potential unconstitutionality of any other interpretation, intersex people can be confident that, like those who fall within the sex/gender binary, they can marry whoever they want in the State of New York without regard to sex or gender.

NOTES

  1. In most cases, when one section of a statute is found to be unconstitutional, the courts will “sever” that provision and allow the remainder of the statute to go into effect.  However, the religious exemptions added to the Act on Friday, which won over the three Republican votes needed to pass the Act in the Senate, also included a “poison pill” provision to discourage anyone from challenging those exemptions. Section 3 of those amendments states that, if any part of the Act is held to be unconstitutional, the entire statute is invalid. Given this additional incentive, courts are sure to do everything possible to ensure that the entire Act is interpreted to be constitutional, including interpreting it to give intersex people the same right to marry as everyone else.
  2. I find it interesting that whoever drafted the Act was evidently aware of questions regarding the validity of an otherwise valid opposite-sex marriage when one of the partners transitions from male to female, or female to male.  It appears that the statement that no marriage shall be treated differently “based on the parties to the marriage … having been of the same sex[,] rather than a different sex” is designed specifically to remove any lingering doubts about that question.

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I hesitate to jump into these shark-infested waters, but here goes.

I certainly have my own opinion on the “transsexual” vs. “transgender” debate that has ignited many a flame war on the internet over the last few months between those who want to separate our community based on those who have had or, at least, want to have, SRS, from everyone else, but I’m not going to express that here. Instead, I’m going to take a position that I’ve never seen expressed by anyone else, although some have come close. My position comes from my background as an attorney and my understanding of how anti-discrimination laws are written and are intended to operate.

Here’s what I know to be true: the dispute about who is transsexual and who isn’t is irrelevant to the fight for protections for transsexual, transgender, genderqueer and every other gender variant or gender nonconforming person in this country. Why? Because of how anti-discrimination laws are written for both practical and constitutional reasons.

(more…)

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